MPs have recently called for a reduction in building demolitions due to their impact on climate change, but just how feasible is it? Our Technical Director, Owen Brooker, reacts.
Calls from the Commons
MPs met the government’s recent relaxation of planning permission rules with caution, citing it could increase building demolitions, and in turn, negatively impact on climate change.
For many years, the prevalent thought for many developers has been to demolish older, less insulated buildings and replace them with more modern ones that require less heating as they are better insulation.
More recently, the opinion has shifted, as knocking down and rebuilding can create twice the amount of carbon emissions.
Not only do a large number of the processes needed to manufacture building materials, such as steel, concrete, bricks, and glass, create CO2 emissions, but the buildings that are being demolished also hold a high amount of locked-in carbon, which is then released upon being torn down.
However, the issue may not be as straight forward as it seems.
The Modern Solution
The incentive for developers to knock down buildings and build tall to take advantage of the high value of land in certain areas, is still prevalent.
Developers are also saying that many older buildings are either difficult to retrofit, or are no longer fit for purpose entirely, meaning they must be demolished.
There is also the argument that, due to advancements in construction methods and materials, whilst building new may increase carbon emissions initially, this will eventually be outweighed by the savings offered by the new buildings.
“I agree that we should be looking to re-use existing buildings before considering demolition,” says our Technical Director, Owen Brooker.
As it stands, the buildings sector is responsible for 25% of the UK’s emissions, and the Commons Environmental Audit Committee is already pressing the government to set scaling goals for the sector, as well as make developers calculate the total emissions of a building over its life cycle.
“While it may be difficult in some cases, installing modern solutions into older buildings is quite often possible,” Brooker continues.
“The Institution of Structural Engineers have declared a climate emergency and as Chair of their Technical Products Panel, I have been involved in preparing new guidance on how structural engineers can achieve this.”
“Building new, more modern developments is certainly part of the puzzle to tackling climate change, but it mustn’t be the first port of call. The maxim: reduce, reuse, recycle is just as true for buildings as for any other product, sadly, too often the first too steps are overlooked,” Brooker concludes.